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Name: Ana Cecilia Gonzlez Roa

Date: May 2015
Prescribed question: How has the text borrowed from other texts, and with
what effects?
Course Title: Part 4- Literature - Critical Study
Text title: Hamlet
Elizabethan Melancholy and Madness in Shakespeares Hamlet
Introduction: Popular beliefs on character
Paragraph 1: (where: characters)
How a personality was defined and why
A macrocosmos to describe a microcosmos
Paragraph 2: (where: characters)
Characters in Hamlet: How they make up a tragedy and relate to each other
Paragraph 3: (how: Hamlet & Ophelia)
Madness and Melancholy
Motifs and Influence for the change of character in both of them
Conclusion: How a tragedy was made (Combination of characters)

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Elizabethan Melancholy and Madness in Shakespeares Hamlet

Writers are inspired by whatever surrounds them and whatever theyre
exposed to. During the Elizabethan era, people had different beliefs about
character, humours and what influenced them. Science merged with beliefs
about human nature and new knowledge was created; it was through the
combination of ancient beliefs and new empirical knowledge that works such
as the The Optike Glasse of Humours and The Anatomy of Melancholy. The
components of a personality were also believed to be unbalanced if the
person in question was a case of madness or general psychological
desperation. Shakespeares works have survived time and gained popularity
due to the nature of the themes they contain. Our perception of what resides
in us, what we are made of, and what moves us to act has always been in
constant change; however, a general notion is what keeps arts and human
expression timeless. In this essay, the influence of these beliefs on
Shakespeares Hamlet and its characters will be discussed, with the purpose
of reflection on the differences and similarities between Elizabethan and
modern perception.
Humans have always looked to understand our origins, and a path to
such knowledge resides in understanding the way are composed and the way
our mind, works. What surrounds us has always served as an explanation for
phenomenon, leading to mythological explanations and the belief of the four
elements being the basic components of our world. This knowledge evolved,

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and in the Renaissance, the combination of a new scientific perspective with
this beliefs led to a partly medical explanation of the psique.
In Thomas Wallingtons The Optike Glasse of Humours, everyone has a
certain disposition that depends on their astrological sign, the stage of life
theyre living, their bodily fluids, the Four Winds, the elements and planets.
In the Renaissance, the man was the center of the world, and rather than
believing in the connection between the universe and mankind, there was a
common ideal of the macrocosmos being a way to understand the
microcosmos everyone of us is. Hamlet, for example, is, in my opinion, a
melancholic character deeply influenced by the time in his life: adulthood.
Although in Wallingtons Optike Glasse melancholy is connected to old age,
in Burtons Anatomy of Melancholy, melancholy is described as a kind of
punishment provoked by the one subject to it.
In Hamlet, several characters are victimes of their melancholy. Ophelia
is led to madness and then suicide, and Hamlet is led to his fate of a tragic
hero by the same means. Both of them experienced the death of their
fathers before falling into the downward spiral. The despair caused by the
mourning led them to questioning God himself, and that, according to the
Anatomy of Melancholy, is one of the causes of the misery that would be
brought upon them. Desperation was seen as a sin back then, and Ophelia
gave in to it, resulting in a terrible fate. Hamlet, on the other hand, shows his
melancholy and explains the causes of it in his first interaction with the

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audience. In his first soliloquy, he talks about vanishing, about not existing,
and this can be interpreted as a desire for suicide.
Other than a very intense and intimate introduction for this character,
it is a very open statement about the type of play that is about to be seen: a
tragedy. In that time, the audience exposed to Hamlet wouldve seen the
popular yet controversial questions that had been already asked; what they
were about to see was the playwrights interpretation r opinion of what was
already public talk.
In the play, a lot of symbolism goes back to the idea of the connection
of men with their surroundings, especially with fluids. Ophelia drowns at the
end, and Gertrude, the King and Hamlet die because of liquid poison. Also,
the belief on fate and destiny is evident, as it is a tragedy and the tragic hero
has a role to play. But, what are most important are the causes of his fate, or
what composed his predisposition: the desperation caused by his fathers
death and visit. One of the greatest qualities of Hamlet is the use of
ambiguity. Shakespeare certainly uses it for the spectator to empathise with
the character in the play whose perspective is most shown: Hamlet. It is
because of his soliloquies that we get the idea of his fathers visit being not a
message from the ghost, but a confession of Hamlets conscience. In this
visit and conversation a lot of ideas about Purgatory, the afterlife, revenge,
resentment are discussed, and they could be the main reasons Hamlet has
an unbalance of his self, according to the Anatomy of Melancholy.

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In conclusion, the ideas of Elizabethan psychology and science deeply
influenced Shakespeare to build the plot of his plays and personality of his
characters according to his knowledge. Evidence such as the development of
character in Hamlet and Ophelia are proof of the influence mythology,
religion and scientific knowledge had on the author.